Got something lovely, shiny, gorgeous or sparkly to share? Join the twitter feed @ThingsToDoinMcr, or get in touch at

Thursday, 29 August 2013

August Gourmet Night at The Mark Addy, in which Greed Finally Pays Off

Anyone who glances at this nonsense on a regular basis will know that one of the highlights of my month is the Gourmet Night at The Mark Addy on the final Wednesday: six surprise courses of Robert Owen Brown's seasonal fancies for £30. It's always amazing, and I always enjoy myself. And yet, last night I wasn't really sure I wanted to go: I was tired, and pretty bloated after an excessively enjoyable Bank Holiday weekend and then a Tuesday night spent swanning round SoLIta dressed in head-to-toe leopard print and snarfing Italian-American classics in honour of Sporanos Night. In short, I felt that even I had finally reached my greed threshold.

Of course, it goes without saying that I went anyway - and was rewarded with what I think is Rob's finest menu yet. To wit:

1. Wild Dunham Rabbit with Red Rose Forest Mushrooms. Chef Owen Brown doesn't do requests at Gourmet Night (it's pretty much a case of you'll eat your tripe and like it), so I was doing nothing more than trying my luck when I sent a jaunty tweet to him last week saying I fancied rabbit this month. And look - not only is there a dainty dish of Flopsy cavorting happily in a mushroom and cream sauce, there are bunny ears made out of breadsticks, and a toadstool made out of radish! I'm SO going to ask for MORE stuff from now on if this kind of thing happens as a result.

2. Deep Fried Lambs Heart & Veal Tongue Sandwich with Caramelised Trotter Gear. On every Addy menu there is a dish that strikes fear into the heart of Twitter, and to be quite honest I was a little trepidatious of this myself - it just had too many scary animal parts in its name. Quite obviously though, it was the best dish of the night - offal in a rich gravy, breaded and deep fried, and slapped between two slices of fried bread; it was, as Rob himself described it, "a bit Greggs", but in a very good way. I had, incidentally, entirely missed the rudeness of the name until the ever-reliable Deanna Thomas tweeted me to say that she's always enjoyed a tongue sandwich - no wonder she's a top chef and food blogger, as she knows everything, and never fails to teach me something new.

3. Poached Turbot with Anglesey Seaweed. Something relatively healthy to counteract the first couple of courses - a perfect piece of fish with gorgeous little lemony potato scales, some sexy veg and some nicely salty seaweed strands.

4. Classic Roast Lancashire Grouse with all the Tracklements (to share). A classic indeed - roast, gamey bird served with roast onion, apple sauce, roast potatoes, game chips and gravy - that I can fault in only two small ways. Firstly, it turns out I am poor at carving grouse, and could have done with a passing butcher (I'm looking at you, James Bobby's Bangers) to lend a hand, and secondly, I never care to see the phrase "to share" appended to anything I'm about to eat. Otherwise, most excellent.

5. Millionaire Shortbread, Popcorn IceCream, Lemon & Lime Curd, Chocolate Fruit & and Nut, Irwell Blackcurrant Mousse. The desserts at Gourmet Night have got a little out of hand in recent months, and part of me hankers after the days when Rob would serve up a simple gooseberry fool or similar - people who can't be trusted to show restraint after four courses shouldn't be trusted with this kind of over-generously sized pudding family either. Still, hard to complain when it was all so nice - I didn't eat the mousse as blackcurrants have an unfortunate effect on me which would NOT have been welcomed at table bearing in mind the amount I'd already consumed, but everything else was delicious. As a point of future reference, never ask for extra caramel sauce as Rob will bring you what essentially amounts to a soup tureen filled with the stuff - you will gamely eat it, and you will feel ill afterwards *voice of experience*.

6. Appleby's Farmhouse Cheshire Cheese. No picture, because I didn't get this far: instead, I carried it home in a plastic container the size of China, just in case I became hungry during the night.

So, another triumph - and unfortunately it seems the lesson to be learned from such a feast is that gluttony pays, and that if you stay in, you might just miss out...

- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street in Salford, M3 5EJ.

Monday, 26 August 2013

A Brief Blog in Praise both of Manchester, and the Bank Holiday Weekend

Sunday is a funny old day, isn't it. Not in the sense of its impeccable comic timing, but more in the sense that no-one really quite knows whether they like it or not: on the face of it, it has so much going for it (lie-in, Sunday papers, leisurely breakfast etc etc), and yet it can never quite shake off its association with the dreaded Monday, which looms ever more ominously the later it gets in the day. And if you're foolish enough to be a teacher, you compound your woes for all eternity, essentially ensuring that you will NEVER again be free of that hideous Sunday-night-back-to-school feeling - just the very sound of the music for Antiques Roadshow or Songs of Praise is enough to give me palpitations.

That's why that rare Sunday that falls before a Bank Holiday Monday should be celebrated with such enthusiasm by cramming in as many nice things as possible. This was my tactic yesterday, and although not all the things were as nice as they should have been, here they all are anyway:

1. Castlefield Market. Been meaning to go to this for ages, hearing great things about its mix of artisan foods, vintage clothing, gifts and crafts; sadly, though, it was all a bit of a damp squib. There weren't many stalls there at all, perhaps reflecting the pressure of the market now being a weekly event, or perhaps just the fact that people are away on holiday at the moment. Either way, a disappointing start.

2. Lunch at 3 Twenty One, Deansgate. I like it here - they do great cocktails, the staff are lovely, and I had an excellent value Sunday lunch here a month or so ago. This time, though, I had my head turned by the Chicken Shack - a mighty tower of three crispy breaded chicken burgers served with bacon and cheese as well as various sundries. It looked great, albeit slightly intimidating, and an initial foray uncovered some very good sweet potato fries and nicely crunchy batter on the chicken - a little like a posh KFC, which in my book is no bad thing. However, the chicken inside was a strange beast - thin and on the slimy side, mostly due to the fact that the skin had been left on the meat. It also arrived without the promised onion rings and chicken gravy; I didn't ask for them as I couldn't have eaten them, but still - all a bit disappointing again.

3. Cocktails at The Whim Wham Cafe. When you need to get things back on track, the Whim Wham will never let you down. Two cheeky gin beauties (The Whim Wham Martini and a Jealous Frenzy) with a friend who had thoughtfully come equipped with a buy-one-get-one-free voucher, and my mood had soared. Said friend did then have to abandon me to take part in something called a gay tombola (no - me either), but the day was up and running again and I went off to its main event with joy in my heart.

4. Pop-up bar at Black Jack Brewery. Ideally what you need on a sunny Sunday with no work the next day is some kind of beer festival, and this one may have been small but it was perfectly formed. I'd never heard of Black Jack Brewery before, but they're on Gould Street, just a stone's throw from the venerable Marble Arch pub, and had set up a lovely beery tent in their yard and filled it with furniture largely fashioned from reclaimed brewery equipment. We sat here with the ever lovely Jules and Bailey from Good Gobble blog, and drank beer, and ate pizza from Honest Crust's wood-fired oven, and listened to music, and observed people almost coming to blows over some very competitive table football. In short, it was the kind of thing that Manchester does best - nice people drinking great local beer in a tent and arguing over the shortcomings of some plastic men impaled upon metal rods. I have also developed a worrying fondness for Black Jack lager, suggesting that visits to this part of Manchester may well become more frequent in future.

So after an average start, a lovely day and a worthy part of my new campaign to reclaim Sundays. And at least Countryfile isn't on tonight, so we can all pretend NOT to have work tomorrow either...

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Levenshulme Market, August 2013: Local Girl Succumbs to Burrito Greed and Adopts New Sausage Role

Now, truth be told, when I was a student in Manchester back in the early 15th century, Levenshulme was not really a place any of us ever wanted to go. It was part of that shady, mysterious world the other side of Kingsway, a place where real people lived, where bad things happened, and where you might be in danger of paying more than 90p a pint; thus we avoided it, and stuck assiduously to our neon-lit Oxford Road corridor, smugly congratulating ourselves as we drank flat cocktails in Severe's and unpleasant dishwater in The Queen of Hearts.

How things change though. Now Levenshulme - affectionately known as Levy, but technically pronounced as Lea-vens-hue-may these days - has a nice feel about it and, more importantly to those of a greedy disposition, a splendid monthly market that has been wrestled from the hands of the council and is now run by four directors who all live locally and care greatly about their community. Levenshulme Market runs from 10-4 on the fourth Saturday of every month next to Levenshulme Train Station, and whilst traders are not the same every month, it averages around 50 stalls with a nice mixture of food, drink, gifts and clothes. Today, for example, I have done the following:

- talked all things sausage with Mr Bobby's Bangers: always a pleasure, although I didn't actually need to purchase any meat items today on account of my freezer still being pretty full of my lamentably wonky efforts from Sausage School. I did however talk the lovely Lottie Moore into buying four different flavours, so it may be that my expertise lies more in the field of "Sausage Ambassador" than "Sausage Handler".

- eaten the world's largest, nicest burrito from Margo and Rita: I've waited a long time to try the Mexican Street food from this jaunty purple van, and marked this fact by ordering as much food as I could reasonably get my hands on. The Bad Boy Burrito delivers a full 12 inches of spicy meat, tomatoes, rice, sour cream and guacamole, and if we're being brutally honest, any girl who talks The Man in the Van into allowing her chicken AND beef in her burrito fully deserves to have ended up with a large portion of it in her hair.

- had a lovely chat with Jules from Arepa Arepa Arepa: I had a chicken arepa from here last month - essentially a Colombian flatbread filled with shredded chicken, chillies and guacamole - and it was lovely. Although, I have just remembered that technically I'm not talking to Jules as she's still on holiday and I'm not.

- stocked up with beers from Tickety Brew: only fair to support this Stockport brewer after Crabbies Ginger Beer made that ridiculous attack on them last week, ideally by drinking more beer and less Crabbies (I'm thinking of having some t-shirts made up along these lines).

You can see the full list of traders here on the Levenshulme Market website, or perhaps go and have a look for yourself at the next market on September 28th. And if you're wondering why there aren't many pictures, well then it's entirely possible that I might have had burrito all over my hands as well as in my hair - if you see that pesky purple van out in Chorlton tonight then please feel free to shake your fist at it on my behalf...

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Tasting Menu at Damson Heaton Moor: Cruel Chef Stanley Makes Innocent Girl Eat Too Much

Now, whilst I am not particularly known for my sense of moderation and restraint, I must warn you that this is going to be a pretty greedy post, even for me. So I'm simply going to breeze through the nine courses I troughed at Damson in Heaton Moor as part of a special taster menu on Wednesday night, and will be gone again before anyone notices how much I actually ate - a bit like a stealth greed ninja, if you like.

1. Mushroom Soup with Truffle Sauce. A dainty little cup of rich, smooth soup with the extra excitement of a generous drizzle of earthy, heady truffle. Looked less dainty with my greedy face trying to extract the last vestiges.

2. Amuse Bouche of Scallop Tartare, Salt and Pepper Squid, Whitby Crab and Avocado Puree. One tantalising, exquisite spoon of ocean joy - really fresh, clean flavours and a lingering feeling of wanting to eat the spoon as well, lest any traces remained.

3. Vegetable Risotto with Chorizo, Pesto, Roasted Tomato and a Parmesan Crisp. Chef Stanley makes the best risotto in town - end of story.

4. Chicken Liver and Poie Gras Parfait. I always promise myself I'll order a different starter when I go to Damson, and yet always end up ordering this. It is rich, indulgent and to be honest, far better served in this smaller size than the generous slab you get in the full starter portion, which I always eat every last smear of, and then complain vociferously about my own greed.

5. Salmon with Peas, Smoked Bacon and Lemon Foam. A perfect little rectangle of salmon with some well-judged accompaniments - I'm not normally a fan of foamy things (I think it comes from being brought up in the country - restaurant foam always puts me in mind a little of cuckoo spit), but here the slight sweetness of the lemon worked beautifully with the saltiness of the bacon and the freshness of the peas.

6. Rump Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms and Spinach. This tends to be what I order off the main menu anyway, so I was delighted to see these tender pink slices appear with an enormous portion of really good, fat chips on the side.

7. Vanilla Cheesecake with Wimberry Compote and Liquorice Ice Cream. I'm not much of a pudding person, but both our desserts were knockout - this vanilla seed-flecked cheesecake wasn't too sweet, and the liquorice ice cream was possibly my favourite flavour of the night. One tiny criticism? I didn't think wimberry compote really went with the rest of the dish and found the three flavours together a bit much - still, what do I know? I still ate it, anyway.

8. Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ganache with Raspberry Sorbet and Vanilla Salt. Peanut butter is one of my very favourite things, and often eaten straight from the jar, standing up (fewer calories that way), so what a treat to have it as part of a properly grown-up, sultry dessert. The saltiness of the peanut butter base and the vanilla salt on the top perfectly balanced the richness of the chocolate, whilst the tartness of the sorbet cut through everything and avoided that cloyingness that peanut butter sometimes has.

9. Cheese, Cheese and more Cheese. I love the cheese course at Damson - they simply wheel over a trolley, whilst you just sit fatly in your chair and point at the ones you want. My criteria here were clear and straightforward: all the blue ones, please, and all the stinky runny ones that look as if they are about to ooze their way off the trolley into a puddle on the floor.

And at that point, I decided enough was enough and - not wishing to appear greedy - put down my knife and fork and stepped (/rolled) away from the table. You can find out more about the amazing Damson Tasting Menu here - it's always a pleasure to be cooked for by Simon Stanley, and on this evidence he is currently on particularly fine form. We paid for our meal but Simon knew it was a special occasion and sent us out one or two extras - the regular menu offers six courses. Which actually, if you skim through this post really quickly, is pretty much what I had...

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Sausage School at Bobby's Bangers: Inaugural Student now Expert Meat Handler

So. When you work in the heady world of education, an invitation to attend school during your precious six weeks of freedom is not normally something to be welcomed. And yet, as with so many phrases in the English language, simply append the word "sausage" to any ordinary, slightly dreary concept (go on - try it now: you won't be disappointed, I promise) and you have something far more desirable: thus SCHOOL (bleuuurgggh, no THANKS) becomes SAUSAGE SCHOOL (yes PLEASE) and I'm there quicker than you can say "tasty banger".

The tasty bangers in question are Bobby's Bangers, a family firm based in Chadderton, Oldham with which I first bacame familiar when chief sausage maker James slipped me a surprise delivery under the table at The Mark Addy. They've now decided to share their meaty knowledge with a grateful populace through the medium of Sausage School, to which I was lucky enough to be invited as inaugural student/guinea pig/person-they-know-well-enough-not-to-make-fuss-if-chops-own-finger-off. I can't say I was a natural, but I had a great time - so much so, in fact, that I graduated with flying colours (and slightly wonky bangers) and am proud to announce that the Bobby's Bangers Sausage School will run from Saturday September 14th. Each session will run for approximately 2.5 hours (I was there all day, but then I talk too much), and will bestow the following upon the excitable meat-lover:

Sausage sandwich and Tea/Coffee on arrival
Pork butchery demonstration by James
Sausage making demonstration by Heather and James
Then prepare, mix, fill and link your own batch of sausages with a choice of Traditional, leek, black pudding or chilli which you then take home (approx 4kg)

Other points to bear in mind:
You’ll need sensible footwear but all other protective clothing will be provided (I quite liked myself in my sausage-making overalls)
Visitors must fill in a health declaration on arrival
Sausage making is quite a wet process, so older, sensible clothing is recommended (don't be scared by this - I emerged pretty spotless, apart from a small piece of mince later discovered adhering to one of my trainers)
Questions throughout the experience are encouraged and welcomed!

Sausage School can accommodate a maximum of 5 people per class, and the experience will be £50 per person. A £10 deposit, paid through the website, will secure a place and the remainder of the fee will be due on arrival. Bobby's Bangers is located near J21 of the M60 and J20 of the M62 and is also easily accessible from the new tram system - you can find all details on their website here. Sausage School was great fun, and I can thoroughly recommend it - not least because it's pretty reassuring to see that nothing nasty whatsoever goes into a quality sausage. Just one thing though: a couple of weeks ago Bobby's Bangers were (deservedly) named Sausage Producer of the Year at the Jimmy's Farm Festival- how many awards will they win now I'M fully trained up? Botched Banger of the Year? North West Division Wonky Wiener Champion? Food for thought, eh...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Mark Addy Gourmet Night July 2013: Banger Queen Rewarded after Long Day at Sausage School

Every so often, a day comes along that is frankly so brilliant that it makes you smile every time you see it written in your diary. Such a day was Wednesday just gone: during the day, I had the honour of being the inaugural student at the Bobby's Bangers Sausage School (more of which next week - suffice to say that I was obviously SPLENDID at sausage making, and that a wonky banger tastes just as good as a shapely one anyway), and then the evening saw dinner with Mr and Mrs Bobby's Bangers at The Mark Addy Gourmet Night. This surely needs no introduction by now (or maybe just a very short one: last Wednesday of every month, £30, six surprise courses, I always eat too much, the things I eat are often strange animal parts), so I'll go straight into this month's menu:

1. Garden Snails with Garlic Butter. Now, at last month's Gastro Club at Kaleido, I physically couldn't bring myself to eat the snails because they looked too much like slugs - the one (rather random) thing on this planet of which I am truly terrified. Robert Owen Brown had chosen to serve his in a hollowed out bread roll, so I simply shut my eyes and stabbed randomly in the vague direction of my plate - a little like a mollusc lucky dip, if you will. Through this method, I successfully consumed all four - they were (not unpleasantly) chewy, and tasted of garlic butter, although I presume this may not be their natural state.

2. Dublin Bay Prawns and Anglesey Lobster Soup. If you know anything about me at ALL, you'll know that I ate all of this and then ran my finger round the bowl when no-one was looking. This was the only course for which the ingredients were not sourced within ten miles, such is the commitment here to local produce - and we can hardly blame ROB for not wanting to serve up shopping trolley soup from the Irwell.

3. Biosphere Project Leaf Salad. This course divided opinion at table somewhat. Mrs Banger and I both enjoyed it - a very simple, plain green salad (made with some of the produce from the Salford roof garden cultivated as part of the recent Manchester International Festival) with mustard dressing which went down a treat after the richness of the soup. Mr Liz and Mr Banger, on the other hand, both felt it could have benefitted from the addition of a meat item - although to be fair, I think they feel this about most dishes.

4. Braised Kid Goat Heart with Madeira and Flash Fried Goat Liver with Courgettes. Twitter was a little horrified by the thought of this course, but (not for the first time) Twitter was WRONG. This was probably the best course of the night and the kind of dish that The Mark Addy excels at - I'm more than partial to a spot of liver anyway, particularly when served pink in a strong, meaty sauce thickened with small morsels of the chopped heart and some simply steamed courgette.

5. Celebration of Summer Berries. Now, thanks to some enthusiastic wine drinking with Mr Banger, I'm not 100% confident I really listened to all the details of this one - and as you can see from the picture, it was right fancy. To the best of my recollection, here we had a Victorian lemonade jelly (lush), a mini raspberry and rosemary margarita (even lusher) and a berry cheesecake (the one minor disappointment of the night - a bit soapy for me).

6. Regional Farmhouse Cheeses. I did say that I wasn't going to eat cheese again after the excesses of the International Cheese Awards, didn't I; oh well, I shall simply pretend that I didn't eat any of this *unconvincing face*

So there we have it - another month, another excellent dinner, even if Robert Owen Brown DID announce to the entire pub that I'd spent the day boning a pig and handling a sausage or two. You'll have to wait until next week to hear that insalubrious story though...

- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street in Salford, M3 5EJ.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Dig the City Comes to Manchester 3-11 August 2013: Green-Fingered Mancunians Rejoice

As previously discussed, there are many surprisingly enjoyable perks to getting older. It is OK to go to bed early, for example, and you can afford better wine, and elect not to watch shows like the X-Factor without feeling like a social pariah. But one of the biggest and best surprises is that, with age, it becomes entirely acceptable to develop an interest in gardening, however amateurish your attempts may be. My dear friend Matt was way ahead of me on this one, subscribing to Gardener's World from the age of about 25 (for which I soundly and relentlessly mocked him, obviously), but these days even I can be caught talking lovingly to my tomato plants and nipping out into the rain to cut a bit of fresh tarragon for my salad - and it's ACE.

So good news, then, that this Saturday 3rd August sees the start of Dig the City, a nine day Urban Gardening festival that aims to show the residents of Mancunia that living in a conurbation doesn't have to mean no greenery. Trees and show gardens are currently popping up all over the city in readiness for the event - have a look at the festival's Twitter account (@digthecity) for more details, where you can also take part in an online event today between 4 and 5pm using the hashtag #digthecity, sharing your own garden photos and ideas and asking any horticultural questions you may have (my own being, WHY DOES MY BASIL ALWAYS DIE?)

Other interesting-looking events include the Dig the City dinner at Harvey Nichols, which takes place this Monday 5th August at 7.30. The lovely Second Floor Restaurant is worth a visit at pretty much anytime, but if you've never had the pleasure of being cooked for by Mary-Ellen McTague or Lisa Allen, Head Chefs at Aumbry and Northcote respectively, then this is your chance - each will prepare two courses highlighting local produce and foraged foods, with a Q & A session to finish. Tickets are £60 per person, which includes a drink on arrival, a four course dinner and coffee - full details can be found here.

(image courtesy of

I've also already reserved my place for the Dig the City Disco next Friday 9th August, for not only do you not hear the word "disco" anywhere near enough in modern parlance, this event will feature XFM DJs Gareth Brooks and Clint Boon, in Exchange Square, amongst 70 trees that are currently going up as we speak - and if you don't want to sing along to This is How it Feels with Clint in the midst of a temporary forest in the middle of Manchester, then quite frankly there's something wrong with you. Tickets are free and can be reserved here.

There will also be a food market, a picnic, events for kids, and talks from Rachel de Thame, Matt James and King Monty himself - have a look at the website for full listings. Many events are free, with Exchange Square acting as the hub of the festival (where there will also be a temporary pub, courtesy of Harvey Nichols) - beer, food AND a disco? I'm just sorry I didn't get into all this gardening business earlier...